Jonathan Haidt's book presents stark data on the negative effects of smartphones on youth

I used to think vaccines were the most important invention in human history. But I'm starting to believe it's smartphones, which have fundamentally and permanently changed how humans interact for the first time since language was invented. The difference is that vaccines were and are a net positive for humanity; the jury is still out on smartphones. 

But one thing has become very, very clear: it's been a disaster for kids. The title of this Atlantic article by Hanna Rosin says it all:

"The smartphone kids are not all right"

Rosin interviewed social scientist Jonathan Haidt, who lays out in his new book The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness that the evidence is overwhelming and undeniable. 

Haidt convincingly uses data to argue that a sharp uptick in depression, anxiety, loneliness, and suicide among young people is directly tied to the wide distribution of smartphones. 

Haidt writes in his book:

"It's as though we sent Gen Z to grow up on Mars when we gave them smartphones in the early 2010s in the largest uncontrolled experiment humanity has ever performed on its own children." 

The numbers are stark:

"Now, in 2010, teens are just beginning to get iPhones. But what's remarkable to me is that the mental-health data doesn't get worse slowly. The mental-health data is fine in the 2000s. And then all of a sudden—right around 2012–2013—everything falls off a cliff…"

[The smartphone is] no longer what he calls a digital Swiss Army knife that you pull out when you need to use it. It is now a portal that millions—millions—of companies now can use to get to you, as a child. Without your parents' permission or knowledge, they can get to you. They can send you notifications. They can try to get you to stop your homework and: Come—look at what someone just said about you

So it's in the 2010s that the phone becomes a master rather than a servant.


Haidt offers some logical steps to mitigate this disaster, but it would require society as a whole to set these guardrails in place — it's obvious that no one parent can stand against the tidal wave of social pressures that swamp their kids today.

We are essentially ignoring all this at our peril.

See also: A staff writer at The Atlantic was addicted to Twitter. Here's why she quit